In light of the current discussion in the MSJ about Conciliarism, it is remarkable that Roman Catholicism has such a limited view about Conciliarism compared with Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. Rome views Conciliarism only as a 15th -16th century challenge to Papal authority. In Anglicanism and Orthodoxy it has an ancient and current application to church polity, differing in detail rather than substance.
(Extract from an E-mail from Fr. Terry Moore to MSJ clerics)
Brothers, I know many of you have been reading and studying Donlon’s paper on canonical Conciliarism in preparation for our Clericus, wrestling with the concepts and ramifications of such actions for the church. There is enough there to keep us busy for quite a spell. Yet, if you would like to see this in an action on a principles many are familiar with, I would encourage you to read Bishop Ray Sutton’s response to Matt Kennedy’s editorial concerning ACNA’s decisions regarding the use of the Filioque, found on the Stand Firm blog Bishop Ray Sutton on the Filioque and the ACNA The comments from blog readers are not important, but the wisdom and work of Bp Sutton is, and should be reviewed and studied for our time together.)
Below is an insight from an Orthodox source. Fr. Ernesto put up today the following article as part of a series he has been posting. It is a more practical insight that that offered by more scholarly writings. Food for thought.
Three days ago, I posted a note on women wearing shoes, for the sake of fashion, that are so badly designed that the women end up with deformed feet. I commented on that post that:
Rather, I am making the point of how powerful is the formative power of culture. Most of us do not realize just how powerful, how strong, culture is internalized. From the moment you leave the womb, even how you leave the womb reflects the cultural attitude towards childbirth. Through the years, without any verbal teaching, the unwritten rules of culture mold and shape the very way in which you perceive reality. By the end of the “training period,” your formation can be so strong that it will not let you easily do something which someone in another culture can do easily.
This has certain interesting implications. Actually, the Orthodox are somewhat more aware of these implications than some other groups, simply because of our many arguments among the different jurisdictions around the world. You see, one of the implications is simply that the revelation of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we have received from the Apostles, through Scripture and Holy Tradition can be twisted and deformed by our culture in the same way that improperly designed shoes twist and deform the feet of so many women. In fact, I will go farther and say that every culture twists and deforms God’s truth to some degree or another.
It is an inevitable result of the power of culture that it bends our perceptions of reality. Sadly, one cannot simply argue that the power of the Holy Spirit will ensure that within a culture the interpretations of the Christians within that culture will be fully accurate. If we were able to argue that, then the result would be that we would all have not just the same beliefs but would even have the same way of phrasing those beliefs across cultures.
However, we can see from the earliest days of the Church that arguments immediately broke out over what it meant to have had God become incarnate. The New Testament records the arguments that broke out, even among the Apostles themselves, over whether being Christian also required one to follow the Old Testament laws. Circumcision became the presenting issue, but the real issue was not simply circumcision, but the law and the covenant that God made with Moses. It is also obvious in the Corinthian, the Galatian and Colossian letters that there were some clear cultural issues involved as well.
But, it was not simply in New Testament times that this type of argument took place. There is a reason why there were Seven Ecumenical Councils, and that is because of great differences in interpretation. But, even when one reads about the Ecumenical Councils, one can also read about the differences in viewpoint between that grew between the East and the West. More than once in the later Councils, only a couple of representatives were able to come from the West to represent the Patriarch of the West, the Pope of Rome. If one looks at the historical situation, it becomes obvious why it would have been difficult for bishops from Ireland, all the way down through parts of Europe, would have had serious problems traveling to those Councils, but it might have been better if they did, given what the lack of their presence meant. One can read that approval by the Pope of Rome of at least one of the Councils was delayed precisely because the translation of the decrees of the Council from the Greek of that time to the Latin of that time was unclear. Both culture and linguistic understanding had changed sufficiently between the East and the West that it was already causing problems.
Differences had also grown earlier, even in the north African area. The Coptic Church is the living remnant of much of what was the Patriarchate of Alexandria, until the Fourth Ecumenical Council. Here is what is interesting today. As talks have gone on between the Pope of the Copts, the Pope of the Romans, and the Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox, the possibility has arisen that the original split may have been in large part due to linguistic and cultural misunderstandings.
Now, one only has to look at many of the Eastern Orthodox blogs, and some of the Eastern Orthodox theologians to sadly notice that their attitude is that the doctrine of the Church means that the Eastern Orthodox have never been wrong and the Western Church has always been wrong. Some will claim that every Western expression of doctrine or practice that differs in any way from the way in which the Eastern Orthodox phrase or do our theology is automatically wrong. These folk have stated that in order for Romans to return to the Church that they must give up their historic liturgy, must adopt the Eastern Orthodox calculation of Easter, must adopt Eastern Orthodox fasting patterns, etc. In other words, they argue not simply for agreement on the Councils and Holy Tradition but also for agreement any and every small detail of “Orthodoxy” that those authors can come up with, even though the Orthodox themselves do not agree among themselves on many of these points!
But, this is neither in accord with Holy Tradition, nor is it in accord with the reality of the influence of culture in our lives. The variations among the Orthodox both now and in past history often show that influence in a healthy way and show that it has appeared good to both the Fathers and the Holy Spirit to allow the variation and the variety.
But, this does not answer the deeper question. How do we know what is truth if our perception of truth is influenced by our culture? And, what mechanisms did God put in place to ensure that the truth would indeed be passed on?
===MORE TO COME===